Adventure of the Seas Western Med 7 August 2010
We flew to Malaga with Ryanair on the Thursday before our Saturday departure. No real problems with Ryanair other than the need to scrupulously check that the luggage was not over the weight allowance. We arrived in Malaga late at night where I had booked a hotel in the city centre. I showed my Internet map to the man at airport information & he directed us to a public bus that stopped within about 200 yards of the hotel. The bus only cost 1 euro 10 cents (as opposed to 30 euros for a cab) so we felt ahead of the game. I considered the savings a sort of rolling ice cream slush fund.
The hotel we had booked was Room Mate Lola. The room was very comfortable, the location convenient and the breakfast (6 euros extra) was great. The staff were all friendly & helpful.
Our first dinner was in the pedestrianised area a short walk from the hotel. The restaurant was El Trillo. I loved everything about the place: staff, ambiance, food, location, view. My husband sort of agreed but said he had had better paella elsewhere.
The following day it was very hot so we decided to take the hop on hop off tourist bus to help with getting around. That worked really well & we enjoyed the city, visiting the citadel and the Picasso sites as well as the motorised part of the trip. That evening we decided to try another restaurant called Strachan. Not such a good idea. Again it was near the cathedral. It was full of Spaniards, usually a good sign - we even had to wait for a table. Unfortunately we found the service poor & the food unpalatable. I was actually pleased to find a long dark hair in my meal so I wouldn't have to eat anymore of it (I'm a short-haired blond.)
We were very favourably impressed with the Malaganans & their city, including the charming taxi driver who took us to the port.
We arrived for embarkation at about 11:30AM. My heart dropped when I saw a large disorganised group of people standing around. I didn't realise at that point that milling about in amorphous groups was the Spanish way. Once we actually got into the embarkation queue we were through the process in no time and everyone we dealt with was very nice.
Cabins were not available until 1:00PM so we had a leisurely & delicious meal in Windjammer until the room was ready. After that I changed into swimming gear & spent the afternoon at the Solarium pool. The next day was a deliciously idle sea day.
The vast majority of the guests were Spanish & almost all of them were travelling in largish family groups. This made dining arrangements different from other cruises I've been on. Very few people wanted to share a table & meet new people. Most of the guests wanted to dine as late as possible, e.g. 9:15PM. We were on My-Time Dining & requested a large table to share. On 2 nights they made some attempt to find someone to share but basically there were very few English speakers and even fewer who wanted to share a table & dine at the same time as us. Having said that we did meet a few very nice people.
The first port was Sardinia. The local people were very well organised, so much so that they spoiled us for Civitiveccia the next day. As soon as we stepped off the ship there was a city tour open topped bus there to take us on a familiarisation tour of the town for a small fee. At the same time there were people there promoting the Segway tours & a beach excursion. I actually did the lot. My husband didn't want to do the Segway or beach. The Segway tour was good & reasonably priced at 25 Euros. My criticism would be that it was a little too organised. Probably a bit more time spent on training & health & safety than necessary. The actual tour was very scenic & well worthwhile although the tour leaders appeared very nervous. One would call out slow down at the same time the other would say hurry up, for example.
Mixed review of the beach trip. The bus was comfortable, the beach was beautiful, changing room was spotless, welcoming drink was lovely cold juice. Unfortunately for me, & I confess to being a bit of a coward, the water was a bit too cold for total immersion.
Sardinia seemed to be a beautiful island, the flamingoes were spectacular & all the people I encountered seemed charming.
The next port of call was Civittiveccia & here I have mixed reviews. We were left waiting for ages for the free port shuttle to the town & again later to return. We were told not to walk & in any event it would be a very long walk.
As it was very hot & we had been to Rome several times before, we chose to go to the nearby town of Tarquinia. It is only about 15 - 20 minutes away by bus but there seemed to be a conspiracy to keep us from getting there. The people in Tourist Information said we could buy bus tickets at any news vendor or tobacconist. I tried several of each, all of whom said they had no tickets or they were all sold out. We finally went to the bus stop & met an English family who had had the same experience. We spoke to a local policemen who said we could just buy tickets on the bus. When the bus finally arrived the driver said we needed tickets in advance. We all just got on anyway and went to Tarquinia without actually paying.
On arrival we all went to Tourist Information where the people were supremely helpful. They gave us free tourist books and and loads of good information.
We took the local free shuttle bus which takes you on a beautiful route through the medieval town to a stop near the Etruscan necropolis. It was too hot for us to methodically go up & down every staircase to look at all the caves but I managed to make it through 6 or 8. I had rented the audio guide which was excellent & without which I would have understood very little. I thought the tombs were beautifully maintained and very interesting. I liked the town shuttle bus & the driver was so good that I asked if it was OK to stay on for a second circuit. We then alighted approximately where we started where we did a little walking tour of the beautiful walled town and then viewed the museum housed in a 15th Century former palace before heading back to Civitiveccia using tickets which were easy to buy at the tobacconist in Tarquinia.
The next port was Ajacio, Corcica & that made a strong favourable impression. I previously knew very little about the place except for the Napoleonic connection. I was totally enchanted and hope to return for a proper visit. The ship moors right in the centre of town which is a great plus. We first did the little tour on the motorised train. Then we had a great wander around the local farmer's market which had started at 4:00AM.
I then did a walking tour of the town going up one street & down the next. I went to the town beach where there are showers & toilets, if needed. The water was a bit warmer than Sardinia although the beach next to the sea was pretty fiercely pebbly. I went back to the town & took the open top bus tour which went a bit further along the coast & gave a different view. I would recommend getting ticketed in advance if you want to do this as they sell out & you are then obliged to wait.
The last port of call was Palma de Mallorca. Our arrival time was a few hours later than normal as a passenger had a medical emergency causing us to return to Corsica. We arrived a couple of hours late in Palma and didn't leave until midnight.
Palma, what a beautiful city. We have been there several times before so we didn't have as great an impetus to sightsee as some other people. We did re-visit the cathedral, however and some of the outdoor sights. We did some great shopping as the sales were in full force, and I had one of the best ice creams ever - watermelon flavour. I do still love Palma but it was very hot & humid so it was nice to get back to the lovely Solarium pool on the ship. We dined in Windjammer that evening as our timing was out of kilter and we missed our MTD booking. I was pleasantly surprised with evening Windjammer as we have only done that once before, on another cruise. I had the Mongolian barbecue which was delicious. My husband had the fish pie along with some curry and that also looked good.
On the subject of food, one good thing on this cruise is the presence of a large Spanish inspired platter at each lunch. That gave me a good opportunity to try these dishes I usually wouldn't get to eat. There were also some serious negatives about food. You have go figure out the times the Spanish don't eat in order to get a place in Windjammer otherwise it is impossible. MTD times are very limited because the Spanish monopolise the later times. It is a real issue, but one you can deal with.
There were some other issues raised resulting from the great majority of Spanish guests. They kept bringing small children to the adult only solarium area and taking the infants and toddlers into the adult only pool & hot tubs. Aside from the sanitation considerations of having these pre-toilet trained kids in the water, there was the very annoying issue of the screaming. Whenever I tried either to read a book or to relax a screaming toddler would destroy the moment. There were also older children running back & forth unsupervised. I informed guest services and pool attendants of my dissatisfaction with this situation, as did other guests in my hearing, but RCI seemingly did nothing to discourage these families from spending the days with their small children in the adults only area until the final sea day when people in security uniforms were in evidence and small children were not.
The catering on the cruise was excellent in my estimation and the staff & crew were, as usual, charming & helpful. Most of the shows were very good. Some things I loved, others I didn't, which is a normal reflection of life in general.
It has to be said that for anyone who is not Spanish there is something of an issue. Having such a large complement of such a strong culture does change the dynamics of the cruise. They come in large impenetrable family groupings. They, for the most part, ignore the RCI rules. They have a totally different out-look on queuing, which involves having one or two family members creating a block and kicking or blocking anyone who wants to pass. This creates chaos when trying, for example, to disembark when one person will stand in front of the sea-pass machine and keep anyone from going through. They do the same in the theatre and lifts so in the end you are obliged to overcome your own good manners and push through or be left behind - altogether not a totally satisfactory state of affairs.
One of the bar staff let slip the fact they had had a meeting where they were told the Spanish guests had complained about the presence of the "outsiders" on the ship. With a few very welcome exceptions they made their dissatisfaction with our presence pretty clear. One man kicked me in the pool very hard. This was probably by accident but when I cried out in pain he refused to apologize and the rest of the group he was with called me names.
A bit of a mixed review for the cruise, as the itinerary is great, the ship is lovely, crew is great, food is delicious, shows are entertaining, the cruise director, Leo Papa, is good but the fellow travellers can create some problems. I think the best approach is to find the humour in the situation and just relax & enjoy the cruise.
We elected for late departure to get maximum use of the solarium and Windjammer. It seemed well worth the money to me as our schedule did not involve rushing from ship to plane. On departure morning we left our carry ons in a lounge where there was a crew member on duty to look after them. We didn't feel like bothering with breakfast but it was available. It was a lovely extra lease on life to use the solarium pool & hot-tub & Windjammer lunch. It was a strange wistful feeling, however, as the new guests started arriving full of hope & enthusiasm for their holidays and we knew we had to leave in a few hours. I still think late departure is a good deal if you are staying on or have a late flight.
Leaving the ship was a doodle. I was the last person to collect my carry on bag at about 2:30pm. We then left the ship and easily found our bags in the terminal and a taxi to our hotel. The driver explained there is a fixed fee of 10 euros into the city centre. That seemed fair enough. The driver seemed surprised but pleased when we gave him a 3 euro tip.
On arriving in Malaga again we learned there was a big fair going on in town. After a bit of a rest & re-group we went out to explore the fair. It is called the Malaga Feria and happens once a year. There are stalls selling food & drinks such as Mojitos and Margaritas & the local wine Carbajal by the litre and people in all forms of dress including some in traditional Spanish dresses. It is colourful to say the least. By about 8:00PM we found ourselves surrounded by thousands of drunk but good-natured Spaniards. We lost our way at one point as we were swept away by the crowds. I asked a young girl the way to the cathedral. She said, "I think it's left but I drunk - too drunk". She had a lovely smile and her directions were right despite her condition. We finally stopped wandering and shared a jug of sangria and sat and watched the colourful, and mainly under the weather, multitudes pass by. By about 9:30 we were too tired and hot to eat so we skipped dinner and returned to the hotel to refresh ourselves for the following day.
Our final day of holiday we slept in and had a comfortable air-conditioned morning before braving the heat and the fair. We had planned a day at the beach but abandoned our plan in favour of the unique opportunity of the Feria. Again the fair was amazing! People were so good natured. There was music & dance everywhere; colourful costumes; interesting stalls. All in all a perfect party except for the intense heat.
We took the public bus back to the airport. By then we were experts. Despite changing the departure gate twice causing people to engage in competitive cross-country runs with their carry-ons the flight home was fine and the car parking company, AHS, was fantastic.
A bit of a let down now to be home but looking forward to the next cruise.